Our Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, delivered his annual Budget speech on 1 February. The only technological aspect that Mr Jaitley covered in his speech related to a “hot” topic, one that is all the raging topic du jour in startup circles all over the world—cryptocurrencies and blockchain.
While Jaitley seemed to sound a veritable death knell to all the cryptocurrency startups operating in India by stating that the government didn’t consider cryptocurrencies as “legal tender” or “as part of the payment system”, he indicated that the government is planning to adopt “blockchain technology for ushering in a digital economy.”
A subsequent report said that Niti Aayog, the government think-tank, has been tasked with bringing in blockchain solutions under the aegis of an initiative called “IndiaChain”, billing it as “the country’s largest blockchain network”. In the words of Niti Aayog’s CEO Amitabh Kant, “Niti will run pilots on electronic health records, land records and digital certification. Wherever people need to establish a trusted, shared, unique record, blockchain technology can help by simplifying processes and removing intermediaries.”
The breathless euphoria notwithstanding, is blockchain really the panacea it is being seen as by the powers-that-be? Can it really “establish trust”, “simplify processes” and “remove intermediaries”? Can the government really deliver on these lofty goals?
One way to assess this is by parsing the first blockchain solution that has been announced—the proposal to issue blockchain-based academic certificates from IIT Delhi. This can serve as a prism to evaluate the government’s ability to actually implement workable public blockchain solutions.
Blockchain-based academic certificates
But first, how would such a system work?
While there might be slight variations in the design of such a system, it would, in all instances, include the following core components:
Recipient – A student who has graduated from the institute. The recipient is issued a private key which represents the token to access her certificate.
Issuer – The university that issues a digital academic certificate and registers it on the blockchain. IIT Delhi, in this case. Rather than the data itself, a hashed version of the information is stored on the blockchain.
Certificate – The artefact establishing the academic qualification.
Verifier – A third party, like an employer or a graduate school with whom the recipient shares her key using which the verifier can request for and validate the bonafides of the certificate.
Wallet – A mechanism in which recipients can store their certificates and share them on demand with others.